Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Google and Privacy: You Get What You Pay For

Picture credit: Amazon
Excel web sharing - spreadsheet collaboration over the Internet made easy with BadBlueIn humankind's quest for email nirvana, Brooke points me to this article on Google and privacy. Apparently, Eric Schmidt -- Google's CEO -- is in a snit because CNET writer Elinor Mills googled him and posted the results. SFgate picks up the story:

...In her story, Mills included a link to Schmidt's home address, his net worth of $1.5 billion and noted that he has attended the Burning Man art festival and is an amateur pilot. Mills said she spent 30 minutes on Google to obtain the information...

...The crux of Mills' story was about the vast amounts of information Google collects that is unavailable to the public. For example, Google software scans user e-mails to learn what kind of advertising might appeal to the user.

Mills wrote in her story that "hackers, zealous government investigators, or even a Google insider who falls short of the company's ethics standards could abuse that information."

My reaction is... uhmmm... big deal. As my Dad always says: there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. With Gmail, you get exactly what you pay for.

Consider: I'd wager most, if not all, of the email you send and receive is in clear-text. If you don't know what PGP or GPG is, that probably means you. And, since it's in the clear, your email could potentially be viewed by others. Bottom line? Email you send and receive is transiting the Internet with any means of protecting it from prying eyes.

Another consideration: if you use a wireless 802.11b connection (or use WEP at all) to connect to your broadband connection, you're at risk of having your connection monitored and/or hijacked.

And, if you have spyware or adware on your machine (which seems to be endemic among consumer PCs), only the software's developer knows whether your emails, contacts, cached web pages and browsing behavior are read, summarized and dispatched to company headquarters for analysis.

The bottom line is that Google is among the least of our concerns. Is it true that Google collects a lot of data on us by spidering the web? Yes - but it's not their fault. It's collecting information from external web sites and aggregating it. Find the sites in question and request that they be changed to remove your information (or modify them yourself, if possible). For example, if you don't want your phone-number on Google, get an unlisted number.

And if you use Gmail, remember one thing: it's free for a reason.

Blaming Google for the vast amount of personal data on the web is like blaming McDonald's for an expanding waistline. Keep away from the junk if you don't want the uncomfortable results.

SFGate: Search engine leader snubs tech news outlet

p.s., BTW, Brooke summited Mt. Rainier last week and has a writeup on his blog with plenty of great pictures.

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